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Boston judge tosses MIT students' gag order
From: David Farber <dave () farber net>
Date: Tue, 19 Aug 2008 14:35:44 -0400

Begin forwarded message:

From: Richard Forno <rforno () infowarrior org>
Date: August 19, 2008 1:54:46 PM EDT
To: Undisclosed-recipients: <>;
Cc: Dave Farber <dave () farber net>
Subject: Boston judge tosses MIT students' gag order

Federal Judge Throws Out Gag Order Against Boston Students in Subway Case
By Kim Zetter
August 19, 2008 | 1:07:19 PMCategories: DefCon, Hacks and Cracks, The Courts


A federal judge in Boston this morning threw out a temporary gag order against three MIT students who were prevented from presenting a talk on security vulnerabilities in the Boston subway's fare tickets and cards.

U.S. District Judge George A. O'Toole, Jr., vacated the temporary 10- day restraining order that another judge had instituted last Saturday against the students and which was scheduled to expire today. District Judge O'Toole also threw out a request by the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority to obtain a preliminary injunction against the students to expand the restraining order beyond the original 10 days.

"It's great news for the free speech rights for these students," said Rebecca Jesche, a spokeswoman for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, which represented the students. "Although it's extremely unfortunate that the students were not allowed to give their talk at DefCon."

District Judge O'Toole, in making his decision, ruled against using the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act to invoke the restraining order, saying that the anti-hacking statute, which applies to code transmitted to computer systems, does not apply to speech. A weekend judge who had heard the case last Saturday and had granted the restraining order on behalf of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, had invoked the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act in his decision, implying that speech about how a system was vulnerable to hacking was equivalent to someone actually hacking the system -- or at least aided that illegal hacking activity.

"It was definitely unfair to use that statute to silence the students," Jesche said. "We certainly hope the next time that people are allowed to present their important research instead of being silenced by bogus lawsuits."

Zach Anderson, one of the students sued in the case, was elated by the judge's decision today.

"We're glad the court actually saw things as they should be," he told Threat Level. "We're glad the court read the law correctly."

Although the restraining order has gone away, it doesn't mean the students are completely in the clear. Still standing is a lawsuit the MBTA has filed against them, accusing them of hacking its system and causing damages.

Anderson said the students regret that they weren't allowed to give their presentation last Sunday but have no intention of giving the talk anymore.

"All the material we were going to talk about has been made public . . . and more," he said, referring to the fact that their presentation slides as well as a confidential report describing vulnerabilities with the Boston system were posted online after the judge granted the restraining order.

Anderson maintains that the students never planned to present key information that would have allowed someone to defraud the MBTA system and says they still stand by that.

"Despite what's happened, and the animosity the MBTA has brought toward us," he said, "we don't want people to defraud them."

When asked if he and the other students ever created bogus MBTA cards and used them to get free rides on Boston's T subway, Anderson declined to respond.

"I can't really comment on the actual means that we used," he said. "It's probably not a good idea to comment on that. We certainly did not get free fare. We had to spend several hundred dollars on buying tickets to look at the data structure. Far more than we ever would have used."

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